Elbasan Castle, locally known as Kalaja e Elbasanit, is a 15th-century fortress located in the city of Elbasan, Albania. This historic monument, standing 9 metres high, was built upon Roman and Byzantine foundations, with the original settlement dating back to the 3rd century. With a history spanning centuries, Elbasan Castle is a testament to different periods of settlement, from the 3rd to 6th centuries, then 11th to 15th centuries, and finally the Ottoman era.
The castle was initially composed of 26 equidistant towers, and part of the historic Via Egnatia passes through its foundations. Founded in 1466 by the Roman emperor Justinian and Sultan Mehmet the Second, the castle was used as a military shelter and oversight point for the famous Via Egnatia. However, it swiftly became the center of Albanian nationalism, serving as a sanctuary for Albanian history, culture, and language throughout centuries.
The Castle of Elbasan had its most glorious period during the 17th century. Enclosing more than two thousand houses within its walls, the castle boasted a manufacturing industry of over 900 shops, crafting and exporting products of leather, silk, and precious metals like silver. Today, the area within the castle walls is known as the Castle Neighborhood, a place where the past harmoniously coexists with the present.
Among the notable structures within the castle is Sinan Pasha's Turkish bath, an early 19th-century attraction well preserved within the castle walls. The Castle Neighborhood also hosts various monuments such as the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church of St. Mary’s Assumption, the old school of the castle, the King’s Mosque, the women’s hamam, and the Clock Tower, which still functions impeccably and was declared a monument of culture in 1963.
The castle exhibits an astounding variation of architecture, representing the epochs, emperors, stories, cultures, and religions that have dwelled within its walls. From Ottoman-style houses typical of central Albania, to Italian-style flats from the 19th and 20th centuries, and buildings from the communist and post-communist era, Elbasan Castle is a haven of diverse architectural styles and historical narratives.
Indeed, Elbasan Castle stands as a symbol of the rich history of Albania, a place where public monuments and religious institutions coexist in close proximity, reflecting the religious tolerance that is a hallmark of Albanian cities. It is a must-visit for anyone interested in exploring the depths of Albania's history, culture, and architectural grandeur.